New Kids on the Block


Gov. Ann Richards of Texas delivered her first state of the state speech last week, described herself as "the new kid on the block" and received star treatment in Washington during the National Governors Association meeting. She got a standing ovation when she spoke to her colleagues and she turned down two network television requests to appear on interview shows. She was asked often about national ambitions, but kept saying she was content to stay in Texas.

Texas has gotten so big that its best politicians almost automatically qualify as national prospects. Democratic Sen. Lloyd Bentsen is one of the leading possibilities for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1992. Republican Sen. Phil Gramm appears to be laying the financial, organizational and political groundwork for a 1996 run. And why not? There was a Texan on a national ticket in five of the last eight presidential campaigns.

You should expect Texas to be at least as prominent in national politics in the future as it was in the past. The 1990 Census figures show the Lone Star state is fewer than a million residents behind New York. It grew at a 19.4 percent rate in the last decade. If existing growth rates continue, it will pass New York, and become the nation's second most populous state by the middle of the decade.

More interesting than Texas' sheer growth is the changing nature of its demographics. By one way of counting, it is now half "minority." Hispanics account for 25.5 percent of its population; blacks are 11.9 percent; American Indian, Eskimos, Aleuts, Asians/Pacific Islanders and what the Census Bureau calls "other races" total 11.8 percent. This adds up to 50.3 percent. (Actually there may be some overlap in those figures, but by any measurement, Texas is heavily a new melting pot.)

This could have enormous implications for Texas and for national politics. Most of the voters among minority groups have traditionally been more inclined to Democratic rather Republican policies and politicians. The highest ranking and best known Hispanics on the Texas political scene are both Democrats, newly elected Attorney General Dan Morales and the widely popular former mayor of San Antonio, Henry Cisneros.

One tradition that is not thriving in Texas, which also says something interesting about the future of politics there and in the nation, is the good old boy tradition. Not only is the state's governor a woman, but so are the mayors of the state's four largest cities.

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